How Substance Abuse Affects Parental Rights and Custody in Texas

Substance abuse can be devastating to families.  Texas family law recognizes the risk to children from parental substance abuse and seeks to protect them.

Termination of Parental Rights

One of the most severe potential consequences of substance abuse is termination of parental rights.  The court may terminate the parental rights of a parent who is the cause of a child being born addicted to alcohol or an illegal controlled substance.  Additionally, a court may order termination of parental rights if it finds by clear and convincing evidence that the parent used a controlled substance in a way that endangered the child’s health or safety and either failed to complete a court-ordered treatment program or continued to abuse a controlled substance after completing a court-ordered program. Tex. Fam. § Code 161.001.

Custody and Visitation

Even when parental substance abuse does not result in termination of parental rights, it can still have a significant result on custody and visitation.  The Texas Family Code includes a stated public policy to both ensure that children have frequent contact with parents who act in their best interest and to provide children with a safe, stable and nonviolent environment.  The primary consideration in custody matters is the child’s best interest.

A parent alleging substance abuse by the other parent in a custody dispute may request court-ordered drug testing or temporary orders limiting the other parent’s access to the child or prohibiting them from using drugs or alcohol while the child is in their care or immediately before.

If the court finds it is in the child’s best interest, it may impose limitations or restrictions on the parent’s time with the child.  Any denial or restriction or limitation on a parent’s rights of access to their child must be limited to what is necessary to protect the child’s best interest. Tex. Fam. Code § 153.193. The court may order visitation less than the standard possession order or allow only supervised visitation. The court may also order the parent to attend meetings, complete a treatment program, or submit to drug testing or monitoring. In some cases, a court may use a graduated possession schedule, in which the parent’s rights to possession of the child increases when they meet certain requirements such as participating in or completing a treatment program.

A parent who has completed treatment or can otherwise show they are no longer abusing drugs or alcohol may be able to avoid restrictions or limitations or seek modification if they are already in place.

Standing Orders

Courts in some counties have standing orders that apply in all divorce and custody cases.  Some standing orders include prohibitions on parents consuming illegal Controlled Substances prior to and during possession of the children.  Standing orders can be enforced like any other court order and a court may hold a party in contempt for violating them. Parents should be aware of any standing orders applicable to their case.

Talk to a Texas Family Law Attorney

Whether you are concerned about your own substance abuse issues or those of your child’s other parent, an experienced Dallas custody attorney at McClure Law Group can advise you on how you can protect your rights and your child.  Call 214.692.8200 to discuss your case.

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